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His sermon led to "under God' in pledge

Published Aug. 27, 2005

When the Rev. George M. Docherty delivered a sermon 50 years ago saying that the Pledge of Allegiance should acknowledge God, he hoped it would influence the nation's leaders to amend the pledge. In just four months, on Flag Day in 1954, his hope became law.

Now, despite a court challenge that will put the rewritten pledge before the U.S. Supreme Court, the 92-year-old retired minister still believes that pledging to "one nation, under God" is not only right, but legal.

"I came from Scotland, where we said "God save our gracious queen,' "God save our gracious king.' Here was the Pledge of Allegiance, and God wasn't in it at all," Docherty recalled during a recent interview, his words still tinted with a burr.

Docherty delivered his sermon on the morning of Feb. 7, 1954, at Washington's New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, just blocks from the White House.

President Eisenhower was in the congregation that day, and Docherty seized the opportunity.

From the pulpit, Docherty said the pledge was missing "the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life."

"In fact," he continued, "I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer and sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity."

The media reported on Docherty's service, a transcript of the sermon was reprinted in the Congressional Record and Congress added the words a few months later.

Docherty's involvement might have been forgotten had it not been for a 2002 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared the phrase unconstitutional.

Docherty understood the constitutional implications of his suggestion, but insists that acknowledging God is historically justified, citing the Declaration of Independence.

Moreover, Docherty's sermon explicitly rejected any reference to church, Christianity or Jesus.

"So, it must be "under God' to include the great Jewish community, and the people of the Muslim faith, and the myriad of denominations of Christians in the land," Docherty said in the sermon.

Fifty years ago Saturday, the Rev. George M. Docherty, now 92, delivered a sermon that led to the words "under God" being added to the Pledge of Allegiance four months later. President Eisenhower was among those who attended that day's service.